Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Sunny Murray/Sabir Mateen: We Are Not at the Opera

Drummer Sunny Murray was one of the true liberators of the ’60s jazz revolution, as he unlinked rhythmic propulsion from meter. On watershed recordings by Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor, Murray created arresting masses of sound with only a snare, bass drum, ride cymbal, and hi-hat. Yet, Murray’s discography as a leader is shamefully scant, given his impact on the evolution of jazz; it is symptomatic of how Murray found the U.S. so unnegotiable that he relocated in Paris, and rarely returns Stateside. We Are Not at the Opera is the case in point of how music in America is poorer because of Sunny Murray’s expatriation.

These four duets with Sabir Mateen, a strong multi-instrumentalist and a rapidly growing presence in the catalogs of such hard-core free jazz labels as Eremite and Aum Fidelity, provide a full airing of the many facets of Murray’s drumming. The ebb and flow of these extended performances (the shortest clocks in at just over twelve minutes) allows Murray to organically connect delicately brushed cymbal figures and full-bore barrages within a single piece; Murray’s underappreciated sense of structure is very well represented by this program. Mateen more than holds his own, often prodding Murray in unexpected directions; his well developed voices on flute, and alto and tenor saxophones, are as compelling as Murray’s.

Recorded at a ’98 concert, We Are Not at the Opera accurately documents the surge-like quality of Murray’s drumming, which occasionally threatens to swamp Mateen. Luckily, the engineer kept the signal hot and the sound natural, keeping the original concert experience intact as much as possible.

Originally Published